My grandfather used to say "Life's tough, and then you die."
But for Bryn Davis, death is only the START of her troubles. Rachel Caine's "Working Stiff," the first book in a new series, quickly kills off the heroine and reanimates her, and launches her into a bizarre, action-packed adventure. However, this book can be downright depressing at times, and the story sometimes drags in overcomplex circles.
Ex-soldier Bryn Davis takes a job as a funeral director, but her first day is a disaster. A teen girl kills herself, Bryn is pursued by the creepy Fast Freddy, and she discovers that her boss is selling a strange drug that reanimates the dead. And then he kills her.
When she wakes up, she's still technically dead -- but she's being kept animate by an experimental drug called Returne, which the Pharmadene company has discovered. However, they will only keep her alive for as long as she's useful to them, and since their company has a leak connected to her funeral home, they want her to ferret out the supplier.
But while hired gun Joe Fideli and the icy security chief McCallister are helping her, Bryn knows that her days are literally numbered. And as she becomes tangled in elaborate webs of conspiracy and megalomania, she finds that her enemies are both inside and outside Pharmadene... and if she doesn't stop them, the entire world may be next.
It took me a long time to figure out why I simply didn't like "Working Stiff." But eventually I worked it out -- this book is possibly the darkest, bleakest story that Rachel Caine has written to date. And not in a good way, but in a "I want to suck on the business end of a Glock" way. People are paranoid, greedy and cold, all the heroine has to look forward to is a slow gruesome decay, and a supporting character is grotesquely tortured.
That dark mood also extends to Caine's writing, which is somewhat more morbid than usual. The story also unfolds in fits and starts -- we have short, dense packets of action and shocking twists, followed by slower lagging periods that made me itch for SOMETHING to happen. And Caine couldn't seem to make up her mind whether she's writing about nanite technology or magical zombie drugs. But Caine does deliver in the climactic final chapters, which are much tighter, faster and richly satisfying.
As for Bryn, she's a character who takes awhile to grow on you. She was never quite convincing as a hardened soldier, but she does have a likable vulnerability and determination that really blooms at the very end. McCallister is an interesting love interest, who takes a little while to de-ice enough to really connect with Bryn.
"Working Stiff" is a rather depressing urban fantasy with an unusual premise, but the ending does indicate that the next Revivalist book might be better. But this one is kind of a dark mess.